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Washington (AFP) – President Donald Trump is set to nominate a new conservative justice to the Supreme Court Monday, an intensely-anticipated decision with momentous implications for America on everything from abortion to guns to immigration.
Democrats girded for a fight as Trump kept up the suspense surrounding his shortlist of four possibles, all with solid right-wing credentials, ahead of the televised announcement to be made in prime time from the White House.
“I have long heard that the most important decision a U.S. President can make is the selection of a Supreme Court Justice — Will be announced tonight at 9:00 P.M. (0100 GMT Tuesday),” Trump tweeted early Monday, after a weekend spent weighing his decision at his New Jersey golf club.
While Trump has already made one pick for the high court since he became president in January 2017, the vacancy left by the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy, announced late last month, has weightier implications.
For years Kennedy often served as the tie-breaking swing vote between conservatives and liberals on the nine-member bench.
If as expected Trump nominates someone firmly to the right, conservatives could dominate the court for years.
The candidates on Trump’s shortlist are Brett Kavanaugh, a former adviser to George W. Bush, Raymond Kethledge, a strict interpreter of the US Constitution, Amy Coney Barrett, a devout Catholic and social conservative, and Thomas Hardiman, a staunch gun rights advocate.
All four federal judges have the endorsement of major Republican legal groups, most importantly the powerful Federalist Society. None is older than 53, meaning they could sit on the court for decades, allowing Trump to make a lasting imprint on the nation’s laws.
– Rush to fill vacant seat –
In recent years the Supreme Court has made landmark decisions on fundamental and often politically charged issues ranging from same-sex marriage, abortion, gun rights, corporate money in elections, and free speech.
In the coming year the court might have to consider Trump’s powers and rights in the investigation into links between his presidential campaign and Russia, and whether he sought to obstruct that investigation.
Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein said Trump’s choice “could have a bigger effect on Americans’ daily lives than any justice in our lifetime.”
Trump has moved quickly to make a nomination while Republicans hold a bare majority in the Senate, which needs to approve the appointment.
Republican congressional leader Mitch McConnell has reportedly tried to nudge Trump towards one of two candidates — Hardiman or Kethledge — seen as presenting fewer obstacles to a Senate confirmation.
Within Republican ranks, Senator Susan Collins has already signalled she could break with her party if Trump taps someone hostile to the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that guaranteed women’s access to abortion.
If the nomination is delayed and Democrats capture an extra seat in the Senate in November elections, Trump could be forced to compromise with liberals in order to fill Kennedy’s seat.
– Conservative shortlist –
Trump’s eagerness to tease maximum drama out of the nomination — he promised Sunday that an “exceptional person will be chosen” — has drawn criticism from opposition ranks.
“I am concerned that he’s making it like a game show,” Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy told NPR radio.
By Monday Barrett, at 46 the youngest and the only woman of the four, was being widely discounted due to her relative inexperience and her strong views as a social and religious conservative.
Kavanaugh, 53, began his career as a clerk to Kennedy. As a judge on the US Court of Appeals in Washington he has written opinions on some of the nation’s most sensitive issues. He recently voiced disagreement with a court decision allowing an undocumented teenage immigrant to get an abortion.
He also has expressed a broad interpretation of what constitutes obstruction of justice, a position which could be risky if the Russia investigation leads to impeachable allegations against Trump.
Kethledge, 51, sits on the Sixth Circuit appeals court. He is seen as an “originalist” — a conservative school that seeks to interpret the US Constitution based on the thinking of the country’s founding leaders more than two centuries ago, and often takes narrow views in cases of individual rights.
Hardiman, 53, a judge on the federal court in Philadelphia, is less known in terms of his legal philosophy, but has roots in the working class that could make him attractive to the public.
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